(UPDATED) UCI announces that team registration is approved
The UCI ProTour commission today approved the registration of the Astana team for 2010, thus ensuring that it will retain both its ProTour licence and the services of Tour de France champion Alberto Contador.
The existence of the Kazakhstan squad had been under serious threat due to a series of late payments this season. The financial troubles led to extra demands from the UCI, including a bank guarantee covering the year's budget.
While this has not yet been provided, a UCI press release issued this evening states that it is expected shortly.
"Looking forward to the 2010 season, the UCI requested the Kazakh team to provide an additional bank guarantee so that the regrettable situation in 2009 would not be repeated and so that the request for the withdrawal of the Astana licence would not have to be reactivated," stated the communique.
"This request is not connected in any way to the registration procedure for UCI ProTeams …but to the request for the withdrawal of the Astana licence that would have to be reactivated if the bank guarantee is not provided. The UCI awaits this bank guarantee and is confident it will be provided soon."
That guarantee is thought to be equivalent to the team's annual budget, which has been estimated at €15 million. Normally, teams are required to pay a portion of that rather than the full amount. Cyclingnews received confirmation on Tuesday that the unusual demands were indeed made, due to the financial troubles experienced by the team this season.
The squad will be backed by state holding company Samruk-Kazyna in 2010 and it has been reported that the name will change to reflect this.
Having been frustrated by the various issues surrounding the team this year, Contador had openly stated that he wanted to leave. Since the Tour de France, the Spaniard has been in talks with several other teams, including Caisse d'Epargne, Garmin-Slipstream, Quick Step and Liquigas.
However he announced earlier this month that he was satisfied with the new team management and that he would stay with Astana providing it kept its ProTour licence. He also required that it set up a programme of internal testing in order to ensure that there would be no doping problems.
The 26-year-old will now finish out the remainder of his contract, racing in the team colours next season.
Contador was by far the most successful rider on the team in 2009. He took eighteen UCI victories, including the Tour de France, with Levi Leipheimer next-closest with four. Andreas Klöden picked up two wins, while Alexandre Vinokourov, Gregory Rast, and Janez Brajkovic secured one apiece.
Twelve of this year's riders have moved from Astana to the RadioShack squad of his big rival Lance Armstrong, including Leipheimer and Klöden. The 2010 version of Astana is likely not be as physically strong as this year's team, potentially making the Tour closer than it was in 2009.
However it will certainly be more cohesive, with the troops rallying around one clear captain rather than split between two leaders.
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